The 2015 NPSL AGM (Annual General Meeting) has come and gone, and now that the dust has settled, we can take a look at what the ever-changing structure of the league will look like in 2016.
The Midwest Region will be split up into two divisions, each with seven teams. Each team will play a home and away match with the six other teams in its division, making for a balanced 12 game schedule. The top two teams in each division will make the regional playoffs – East 1 will play West 2, West 1 will play East 2, and the two winners will meet in the final to determine the Midwest representative at the national semifinal.
The divisions are as follows:
While there’s no perfect way to set the region up to make it perfectly equal and fair, I think that this format is the best one I’ve seen since I’ve been following the NPSL (i.e. since City has been around).
The one issue I and several others have is that it feels like City is being forcibly quarantined within the state of Michigan – the match at Dayton will be the only out-of-state trip of the season unless a non-Michigan team hosts the regional playoffs. I was looking forward to potential away days in places like Cleveland and Buffalo, but that will have to be put on hold until 2017 at the earliest.
There are many positives to the format, though. Every single away match is now within a 3-4 hour drive, and many of us will be able to witness the entire season live and in person. Travel costs for the club will be lower than in previous years, and there should be fewer player availability issues that normally arise whenever there is a long road trip.
Additionally, the balanced schedule will virtually eliminate the controversies that have consistently popped up at the end of seasons, such as Madison getting to host the playoffs in 2015 by virtue of a weak schedule, or the points-per-game fiasco of 2014.
There will inevitably still be some small issues, such as if a third-place team in one division ends up with more points than the first or second-place team in the other division, but for me, if you can’t finish in the top two of your division, you don’t deserve to make the playoffs. This isn’t MLS.
As for the playoffs themselves, I’m not the biggest fan of the single elimination format (probably because my team has ended up on the short end in all of its appearances). I don’t mind it as much when it comes to the national final four, but at the regional level, I think I might prefer to see a two-leg home-and-home between the winners of each division**, maybe on the Friday and Sunday of the weekend that is normally reserved for the current 4 team tournament.
*No, like really seriously. Not even kidding.
**Idea originally proposed by Kirk Vangilder
Overall, both divisions should be very interesing and competitive. City has massive holes to fill at centerback, striker, and possibly goalkeeper, and Ann Arbor could prove to be their stiffest competition as it provides a local option for UM players and has appointed Eric Rudland (formerly of Lansing United) as head coach.
In the east, I expect Erie, Cleveland, and Buffalo to continue their annual tradition of beating up on each other and creating a logjam where the teams are only separated by a few points.
Unless one of the Pennsylvania or New York teams host the playoffs, the regional playoffs will either be held at home (preferably) or fairly close to home. This setup looks favorable for City, but the next step – building the team – will be crucial.